To: Interested Parties
From: Paul Gordon, Senior Legislative Counsel, People For the American Way
Date: September 15, 2014
Subject: Senate Needs to Confirm Pending Judicial Nominees
There is probably little more than a week before the Senate goes out on recess until after the election. One of the most important – and undoubtedly quickest and easiest – things it can do before then is confirm 16 judicial nominees, most of whom have overwhelming bipartisan support.
One of the most important responsibilities of the United States Senate is to maintain a functioning federal court system. District courts are the backbone of the American judicial system. They are where people turn when they feel their rights have been violated. “Having your day in court” is an essential part of the American ideal. But that ideal cannot be met if we don’t have enough judges to make it happen. Even if every vacancy in the country were filled tomorrow, it wouldn’t be enough: The Judicial Conference of the United States – the entity responsible for assessing the federal courts’ ability to effectively manage their caseloads – has urged Congress to create an additional 85 district court judgeships. So when an existing vacancy can be filled with a qualified nominee, it ought to be done with dispatch.
Right now, nominees for 16 such vacancies can be confirmed within the next few days. Seven of these were fully vetted and approved by the Judiciary Committee and have been waiting for a floor vote since June or July. Of these seven, all but one of them advanced without any opposition. Four alone are from Georgia: nominees who have the unanimous support of the Judiciary Committee’s Democratic and Republican senators. There are no more questions to ask of these nominees, except when they will be allowed to take up their judicial responsibilities and fill empty courtrooms in Georgia, New York, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.
The remaining nine were scheduled for a committee vote last week, having had their confirmation hearings back in July. They have been nominated for judgeships in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Missouri, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Four of them – nearly half – would serve in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, a state with so many vacancies that it alone accounts for 15% of the nation’s total, but Chairman Leahy was forced by the GOP to delay the vote. Republicans gave no reason for the delay, but they rarely do: Since President Obama took office, Republicans have exercised the right of the minority party to have a committee vote “held over” (delayed) by at least a week without cause for nearly all of his judicial nominees, part of their overall mechanism of obstruction. Fortunately, they are expected to get their overdue committee approval later this week.
There remains plenty of time to confirm all 16 nominees before the Senate goes out for its pre-election recess next week.
The fact that we are heading into an election is no reason not to hold these confirmation votes. In fact, in September of 2008, a presidential election year – and the twilight of George W. Bush’s presidency, no less – Democrats rushed several of his nominees through to make sure they got confirmed before recess (and before his presidency ended). Ten of Bush’s district court nominees were confirmed just one day after being approved by the Judiciary Committee. All ten had had their committee hearings earlier that same month – in some cases, during that same week. The confirmation votes took hardly any time at all, since all ten were considered and confirmed as a bloc by unanimous consent.
Interestingly, three of those 2008 nominees were from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where four of the current 16 nominees could be serving by next week, if given the chance.
Republicans still have a chance to demonstrate that they can prioritize the functioning of the U.S. court system over their own partisan interests. But it seems unlikely. Since last year, the GOP has insisted that no judicial nominee, despite their bipartisan support, advance on the Senate floor without time-consuming cloture votes and roll-call confirmation votes. And it isn’t just the roll-call votes that take time (although each one can take nearly an hour). Without unanimous consent to waive the chamber’s time requirements, cloture votes cannot be held until two days after cloture petitions are filed, and each confirmation vote requires at least an hour of needless “post-cloture debate” even after the filibuster is broken.
If Republicans successfully prevent votes this month, the earliest the courtrooms will see some relief will be in a potential lame duck session. That means another two month wait until clearly qualified nominees are able to take their seats in courtrooms around the country. There is simply no good reason for such delay.
Glenn Grothman, the Wisconsin state senator and U.S. House candidate who is bravely fighting against the “war on men,” this weekend earned the endorsement of a man he calls his “soul mate”: former senator Rick Santorum.
The Wisconsin State Journal reports that Santorum announced his Patriot Voices PAC’s endorsement of Grothman on a joint conference call late last week, where the two “praised each other for their devotion to conservative principles.”
State Sen. Glenn Grothman snagged a high-profile endorsement this week when he won the backing of previous GOP presidential hopeful and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, from Pennsylvania, and his Patriot Voices PAC.
During a Thursday conference call with reporters, Grothman and Santorum praised each other for their devotion to conservative principles. Grothman talked about how Santorum won him over when they first met during Santorum’s unsuccessful bid to become the 2012 presidential nominee.
“When I met him, I felt we were almost soul mates,” Grothman said. “It’s kind of an odd thing.”
Along with exposing the “war on men” being waged by “gals” in the workplace, Grothman has defended Uganda’s harsh anti-gay law, tried to make abortion a crime even if it would save the life of the pregnant women, claimed that women earn less because "money is more important for men," wanted to officially classify single parenthood as a factor in child abuse, goes out of his way to bash Kwanzaa, and is a leader in pushing for blatantly political voter suppression laws.
In other words, exactly the sort of politician who would find an ally and soul mate in Rick Santorum.
On today's "Pray In Jesus Name" program, Gordon Klingenschmitt reacted to last month's ruling striking down Pennsylvania's ban on gay marriage by declaring that the judge who issued the ruling was controlled by a demonic spirit that led him to "conspire against God."
As Klingenschmitt explained, whenever people "invite the Devil to rule our hearts," it results in "a demonic spirit of sexual immorality" manifesting itself through their sinful behavior. And that is exactly what happened with "tyrant" Judge John Jones III, who, driven by a "demonic spirit of pride," sought to "conspire against God" by tossing Jesus and the Bible on the ash heap of history with his marriage ruling.
But Klingenschmitt has a message for Jones: "Judge and Satan, you will end up on the ash heap of history and not Jesus and the Bible."
Another day, another discriminatory ban struck down. Today a federal judge ruled in Whitewood v. Wolf that Pennsylvania’s 1996 ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. This victory for marriage equality follows closely on the heels of the striking of Oregon’s ban only yesterday and makes Pennsylvania the 19th state allowing same-sex couples to marry.
Congratulate Pennsylvanians by sharing our graphic below:
Republican Rep. Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania said last week that policies friendly to undocumented immigrants "reward people who want to tear down our laws and make us a third-world country."
Speaking with radio host Lars Larson at the anti-immigrant group FAIR's "Hold Their Feet to The Fire" event, Barletta complained about "sanctuary cities," which he has previously proposed cutting off from federal funding. Barletta is the former mayor of Hazleton, Pa., where he enacted one of the harshest anti-immigrant ordinances in the country, which was struck down by federal courts before it could ever be enforced.
"We continue to send federal dollars to mayors who are above the law," he said. "And then you have a mayor, such as myself in Hazleton, who gets sued for wanting to enforce the laws.
"And there's something wrong with the direction this country's been going when we begin to reward people who want to tear down our laws and make us a third-world country where we get to pick and choose what we want to do."
Larson: If the party picks [Jeb Bush] as the nominee, they're sending a powerful message to Americans that we're going to give away the vote and we're going to give away the whole meaning of what it means to obey the law.
Barletta: Absolutely, and it's what made our country so exceptional is that we were a country that has laws, and you cannot pick and choose what laws you enforce and what laws you can't. But here you have in the case of immigration -- illegal immigration -- you have mayors who declare themselves sanctuary cities, who are not going to enforce immigration laws. Nothing happens to them. We continue to send federal dollars to mayors who are above the law. And then you have a mayor, such as myself in Hazleton, who gets sued for wanting to enforce the laws.
And there's something wrong with the direction this country's been going when we begin to reward people who want to tear down our laws and make us a third-world country where we get to pick and choose what we want to do.
Earlier this week, the newest Religious Right tale of supposed anti-Christian victimization emerged out of Pennsylvania, involving a school that allegedly refused to allow a first-grade student to hand out cards featuring a religious message on Valentine's Day.
Donald and Ellen Abramo, with the help of the Alliance Defending Freedom, have now sued Shafer Elementary School in Nazareth, PA claiming that they son had been prevented from distributing cards that said:
"St. Valentine was imprisoned and martyred for presiding over marriages and for spreading the news of God's love. In honor of St. Valentine's Day, I want you to know that God loves YOU!!!"
Predictably, Todd Starnes has now picked up the story and turned it into a column, which all but guarantees that the allegations are either overblown if not outright false, but since the school has so far refused to comment, it is impossible to know at this point.
But that is not stopping Glenn Beck from weighing in, as he did during yesterday's morning meeting when he directly compared the incident to the stoning to death of Stephen the Apostle for spreading the Gospel.
"You know what this reminds me of?," Beck asked his staff upon hearing the story, "the Martyrdom of Stephen the Apostle ... This is the same kind of thing":
Every year, the anti-immigrant group FAIR holds an event called “Hold Their Feet To The Fire,” which invites radio hosts to broacast from Washington, DC, and interview lawmakers and conservative activists.
This year, Rep. Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania, one of the staunchest anti-immigrant members of the House, showed up on FAIR’s radio row to call president Obama a dictator, associate undocumented immigrants with the 9/11 terrorists, and declare that “there may not be anything more dangerous” than comprehensive immigration reform.
Barletta told Secure Freedom Radio’s Frank Gaffney that President Obama has put us “on a road to where we’re now electing a dictator.” He took particular exception to the president’s support of immigration reform: “There may not be anything more dangerous than what he’s doing, to give amnesty to millions of people. “
Gaffney: To the extent that the president is, at best, selectively enforcing the law and in some cases rewriting the law or ignoring it altogether, do you agree with those who describe this as a constitutional crisis?
Barletta: Oh, there’s no question about it. This has been a slippery slope that this administration has taken, that the president has taken, walking over the Constitution and taking us down a path that, quite frankly, I don’t know if we’ve ever been this far down a road before, on a road to where we’re now electing a dictator who will try to pick and choose what laws and challenging Congress to try to stop me.
And there may not be anything more dangerous than what he’s doing, to give amnesty to millions of people. We know for a fact that there are people who have come here illegally who want to harm America.
In an interview with Florida radio host Joyce Kaufman, who came under fire for anti-immigrant extremism when she was briefly the chief of staff to Rep. Allen West, Barletta compared the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country to the 9/11 terrorists.
Referring to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s comment that many undocumented immigrants come to the US as an “act of love” for their families, Barletta said, “You know, sometimes we need to remind everyone about September 11. The pilots of those planes, it was an act of love to a different God that took American lives. And not everyone who is here illegally is all here for an act of love for their families.”
Kaufman agreed, adding that the Boston Marathon bombing – perpetrated by legal immigrants – was “another act of love.”
When the news broke yesterday morning that a student at a Pennsylvania high school had gone on a stabbing rampage that had injured nearly two dozen people, Glenn Beck briefly addressed it on his radio program.
After wondering why the students at the high school didn't just collectively rush and subdue the assailant before he could injure so many people, Beck said that all anyone could do at this point was to pray for this nation because we will soon face unspeakable misery because of our decision to "go against universal principles."
It was not God who made this student attack his fellow students with a knife, Beck said. Rather, it was a result of the fact that "we have disconnected from universal principles."
And because America has become so detached from those principles, this nation is headed toward mass starvation which will not be a punishment from God but simply the logical end result of embracing Marxism.
"We are now doing things that go against natural law," Beck warned. "And because of that, we will pay a very heavy price":
Wayne Allyn Root, the conservative activist who ran for vice president on the Libertarian ticket in 2008, claimed last month that President Obama won reelection because “Democratic voters across this country are voting four times, five times, 10 times each for the Democrats.”
In a video commentary posted in late March, Root insisted that “Democrats are winning elections through what appears to be massive voter fraud.”
Root — who is also a birther — cited the right-wing myth that the fact that a handful of precincts in the heavily Democratic Philadelphia recorded no votes for Mitt Romney means that Democrats were “stuffing the ballot box.” The Philadelphia myth is part of a right-wing trend of blaming Democratic victories on unproven voter fraud in urban areas.
Root also said that President Obama should be impeached over alleged IRS targeting of conservatives, citing the removal of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich. “If you think impeachment can’t happen, it’s a pipe dream,” he said, “I’ve got news for you. Study Ukraine."
Yesterday, Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach suffered a double setback when the Supreme Court refused to hear appeals of decisions striking down two local anti-immigrant ordinances that Kobach had written and shepherded through the courts. Now, both towns are facing the possibility of paying legal fees for opponents on top of years of legal costs that they had already incurred.
Kobach was behind an ordinance in Farmers Branch, Texas, that required people to prove they were in the country legally in order to rent a home and one in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, that would have penalized people who rent to or employ undocumented immigrants. Both ordinances were struck down by federal courts, and neither town succeeded in appealing those decisions to the Supreme Court.
In August, the Dallas Morning News reported that Farmers Branch, a town of 29,000 people, had already spent $6 million defending the law since it was first passed in 2006, and expected to pay $2 million in legal fees for its opponents if it lost in the courts. The town has already been forced to cut back in other areas of its budget in order to keep up with the costs of defending the ordinance, despite a $500,000 contribution from real estate heir Trammell Crow.
Meanwhile, Hazleton reported last year that it had spent nearly $500,000 on legal fees since 2006, financed mostly from donations from an online fundraising campaign, along with a $50,000 gift from Crow. But the Hazleton Standard Speaker reports today that the city’s legal defense fund has dried up and it’s facing the possibility of paying millions of dollars in legal fees for civil rights groups that challenged the law. The town of 25,000 faces these costs on top of a pension fund deficit of over $28 million.
Even Kobach-backed ordinances that fare better in the courts can still present huge costs for cities that take up his anti-immigrant crusade. Residents of Fremont, Nebraska, voted last month to keep a similar Kobach-written anti-immigrant ordinance after it was upheld by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Since the ordinance was first passed in 2010, the town raised its property taxes in order to set aside $1.5 million to pay legal fees and implementation costs; the town also risks losing millions of dollars in future federal grants.
While Kobach uses small cities to push his anti-immigrant experiments, those cities are forced to foot the bill as they work through the courts. The cities sometimes even pay for Kobach's services. The Southern Poverty Law Center noted in 2011 that "Kobach has said that he normally charges about $50,000 a year to defend his ordinances against legal challenges. He described that rate as under market and said he wants to ensure 'the cities can afford it.'"
States that push Kobach's harsh anti-immigrant laws have also faced enormous costs. Arizona spent millions of dollars defending SB1070 before it was ultimately largely struck down by the Supreme Court, and lost an estimated $23 million in tax revenue and $350 in direct spending from a resulting economic boycott.
Kobach’s home state is hardly immune from this either – state election officials are now facing the possibility of having to set up a dual elections system in which 15,000 voters caught up in Kobach’s voter ID plan will be allowed to vote only in federal elections – a costly bureaucratic nightmare.
The following is a guest blog from Reverend Michael Couch, a member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action.
On Tuesday, while speaking at the Georgetown University Law Center, Attorney General Eric Holder called for a repeal of state voting laws that disenfranchise formerly incarcerated people. In a country where nearly six million citizens are unable to vote because of felony convictions, these changes could not come quickly enough.
State laws dictating voting rights for those who have served time in prison vary, from an automatic restoration of rights after sentence completion in some states to outright bans in others. Restrictions on this civil right in states like Kentucky, Florida, Iowa, and Virginia should no longer be subject to criteria such as the type of convictions, arbitrary time frames, petitions to clemency boards and/or the state governor.
I work daily with others around the country to make sure nonpartisan voting education and voter registration of women and men who have completed their sentences takes place. Laws that disenfranchise formerly incarcerated people take away the single most fundamental American right, and they do so disproportionately to people of color. As Attorney General Holder pointed out in his speech, restrictive laws prohibit a shocking one in thirteen African Americans adults from voting.
As an African American faith leader, I find this to be both morally unacceptable and counterproductive to the goal of fostering supportive, engaged communities. I know from experience if someone has committed a crime, served their time in prison, and is released, no good could come of permanently stripping them of their most basic right and responsibility. Moreover, what isn’t often addressed is how restrictive laws keep families of those adults from helping them transition back to being a responsible, contributing citizen of their community. It’s time to change the message sent to the nearly six million Americans who have lost their voice and civic responsibility in our democracy.
Attorney General Holder is right: These laws are “unwise…unjust, and… not in keeping with our democratic values.” It’s time for states to get rid of laws that suppress those who have served their time and prevent them from fully participating in our democratic system.
In 2012, over the protests of thousands of Pennsylvanians, forty five organizations, and every Democrat in the state legislature, Governor Tom Corbett signed into law one of the strictest voter ID requirements in the country. The Speaker of the Pennsylvania House acknowledged that he pushed the law to help Mitt Romney win the state.
This morning the two-year-old law was ruled unconstitutional. Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley wrote that law was a “substantial threat” and that it would hinder the ability of many to vote freely.
In the ruling, Judge McGinley stated:
“Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal.”
People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council said of the law last year:
“The purpose of this law has been clear from the beginning. It was meant to keep African Americans, students, and other traditionally suppressed communities from exercising our hard-won right to vote. Even the law’s supporters have admitted that there is absolutely no evidence of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania. Instead, this law is a purely political attempt to disenfranchise citizens who have every right to vote. I am dismayed at today’s decision and hope that as this case moves through the courts, our judges recognize the ugly intent and real consequences of voter ID.”
A Republican state representative in Pennsylvania is circulating a memo calling for the impeachment of the state’s attorney general, Kathleen Kane, for her “misbehavior in office” and “violation of her constitutional, statutory, and ethical duties.” Earlier, a Republican state senator also called for her impeachment and asked the legislature to reduce her office’s budget.
Kane recently said that she “cannot ethically defend the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s version of DOMA” because “it is wholly unconstitutional.”
The state representative proposing impeachment, Daryl Metcalfe, recently stopped an openly gay colleague from speaking in favor of marriage equality on the state house floor after the Supreme Court’s recent rulings on marriage, saying is colleague was in “rebellion against God’s law.” Metcalfe even opposed a resolution condemning domestic violence because he feared it would advance the “homosexual agenda.”
All public officials in Pennsylvania swear an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution and laws of this Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Attorneys Act imposes a mandatory duty on the Attorney General to defend the constitutionality of lawfully enacted statutes in any challenge filed in court.
Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane recently made a public declaration that she would not defend a federal lawsuit challenging the statutory definition of marriage. Ironically, Attorney General Kane explained that she could not “ethically” defend a law that she believed to be “wholly unconstitutional,” but making such a public statement that hinders the defense of the litigation violates the ethics rules that all attorneys are bound to follow.
In the near future, I will be introducing a resolution containing articles of impeachment against Attorney General Kane. Impeachment is a rarely used, but extremely important, tool to address misbehavior in office. Attorney General Kane’s violation of her constitutional, statutory, and ethical duties cannot be tolerated if our system of government is to work properly.
Attorney General Kane’s refusal to follow the law already led to further violations of the law when the Montgomery County Register of Wills cited Kane’s decision as a reason to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. When the Commonwealth Court entered an order that stopped this practice, the Court reiterated the well-established principle that every act of the legislature is presumptively constitutional until a court declares otherwise. Attorney General Kane has created a constitutional crisis by refusing to perform her assigned role and usurping the role of the courts.
It is our duty to stop her from engaging in further misbehavior in office.